The wind swept over the square outside the Upper Basilica, filling the sky with grey clouds. St Francis sat astride his horse with bowed head. This statue captures the moment when, in 1204, the saint heard the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home. The grass shivered and swayed; the rain was not far away.
I hastened into the cathedral. Earlier that day I’d watched as would-be pilgrims arrived by the busload, the Franciscan friars who give tours around the Basilica struggling to keep their herds together. It seems, however, few visitors choose to stay overnight, especially as the days of autumn lengthen. By this late hour barely a handful of tourists wandered the aisles.
I woke to a watery sun creeping through the window. Yesterday, I’d looked over terracotta rooftops and onto an Umbrian countryside so classic as to be breathtaking. Now Assisi lay hidden by mist. Spires and steeples appeared and disappeared at the whim of a cold breeze, and every noise came as if from far away. Water dripped from the roof and onto the windowsill beside my hand.
Through the mist came the muffled peal of a bell calling the faithful to Mass. As the world slept I made my way through the dimly lit corridors of the hotel. Outside, a winter wind fingered my clothes. The few people passed at that early hour seemed more shadow than reality as I made hurried to the Papal Basilica of St Francis. Continue Reading →